Great leadership starts on a small scale at the very beginning, with the "ordinary" things. Likewise, great leaders aren't only the people on the cover of magazines or the keynote speakers at Davos or the UN. Great leaders are among us. The question is: do we recognize them? Do we appreciate the great leaders we have in our midst? Do we learn from their leadership example?
I'm going to start highlighting the everyday great leader. I want people to see what leadership looks like at the "ordinary" level. I want people to be inspired and to realize that they too can be leaders. The first spotlight example of what an (extra) ordinary leader looks like is my sister.
Among her many roles and activities, she is the head coordinator of the New Hope Christian Ministries’ Mexico Outreach Trip. Her leadership is so well recognized that she was invited to speak at a conference regarding mission trips!
Some quick background of what the Mexico Outreach Trip is:
Twice a year, the team leads 50-80 volunteers on an intensive weekend trip to Baja California, Mexico. Over the course of 48 hours, the volunteers partner with local churches and organizations to build homes, feed orphans, provide for the basic needs of villages (food, dental, basic medical check-ups, manicures, haircuts, etc), feed people who live in landfills, and tend to the spiritual needs of all whom they encounter.
Imagine the logistics involved! The volunteers split into 4 or 5 teams each day to go to the different projects. You need to provide the lodging, transportation, food and water for the volunteers, as well as the materials for each project. At the beginning, cell phone service (including GPS) was very limited. You had to rely on printed directions and hope that your Spanish was good enough to read the street signs correctly.
Keep in mind, all the pre-work that needs to happen before the trip starts:
finding local partners
planning the events/projects
being aware of any changes to Border & Customs regulations (both entering into Mexico and re-entering into the USA).
registering all the volunteers
Add to that the fact that the volunteers come from 4 different States and range between 14 - 65+ years old. It is a tremendous feat!
What are some (extra) ordinary leadership traits my sister exemplifies?
#1 Start Where You Are
The (extra) ordinary leader knows that they need to start somewhere. They don’t wait for the title of “leader”. They are proactive right where they are. They also don’t wait for someone else to tell them something needs to be done. They look around, find something that needs to be done, and then they do it.
My sister had a vision 10 years ago of helping those less fortunate. She turned that into action by planning the first Mexico Outreach trip in December 2009. We had 18 volunteers. We went to one orphanage, played with the kids, and then made them dinner. That’s it. It was super simple. She didn’t wait for someone else to do something. She chose to be the one to do it.
What about you? Is there something that you feel needs to be done in your company or your community? Offer up a solution! Volunteer to be part of the team that provides the solution. Don’t wait for everyone to enthusiastically support you. Go prove that your proposed solution works. The results will speak for themselves.
#2 Care About the Results More Than the Recognition
Extra ordinary leaders don’t wait for the fame and recognition. They “do” because they have a passion. They care about the project/end results more than they care about recognition. This was confirmed by Jim Collins’ findings in “Good to Great”. When leaders worry about their own reputation more than the mission, the team breaks down into dysfunction. It sets the standard of “me first”. Leaders who care about the mission/organization/project more than they care about the recognition, create excellence. Their teams bring “wow worthy” results.
My sister cared more for the people she would be helping than the recognition she received. By setting her ego aside, she put all her focus on those whom we were serving. Her creativity went into finding other ways to serve. What new project could we do? How else could we help?
Because of that, the outreach trip grew from a 1-day, 18 people trip to its current size. We built dozens of homes, an orphanage, school buildings, and so much more! We solidified a bond of trust with our local partners. We have lasting relationships with some of the orphans that we have had the privilege to see grow up over the past 10 years. On one trip, we had over 100 volunteers! In our last trip alone, we served over 700 meals in a 48-hour period. All this was made possible because the head leader, my sister, placed a focus on the people who we are serving, instead of on herself.
What could you be doing to wow your internal or external customers? Are you holding back because you’re afraid someone else will get the recognition?
#3 Be a Gracious Team Player
Extra ordinary leaders know that getting things done requires a team, and they know how to move their team to action. They share the recognition for the successes and take responsibility for the failures. They are gracious when a team member falters. Instead of berating them publicly, they address them privately. They seek to understand what caused the “failure” and provide support to ensure the team member can meet their goals. They allow their team members to “save face”.
My sister is an amazing example of this. The outreach committee is made up of people from different churches. When the team first started, she was the youngest member. Here was a young 20-something-year-old woman leading a team whose members included successful business owners and long-time church leaders. They had more experience than her in leading their respective organizations. She adeptly gave them roles that were best suited to their skill set. She noticed who might need more support than others. She learned to adapt to each person’s communication and organizational preference. She listened to their seasoned leadership advice.
As board members know, discussions can get heated, especially when you’re talking about going into unknown territory and the physical safety of your volunteers is a concern. My sister expertly facilitated those discussions. She allowed people to voice their concerns, encouraged dissenting opinions, and helped the team come to a consensus. Because of her leadership, the team was built on the foundation of trust. Like Patrick Lencioni mentions in his book “The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team”, this allowed for healthy conflict, which then resulted in team buy-in, accountability and stellar results.
Those results are not only the projects and people we have been able to help, they are also the experiences of the volunteers. We have many volunteers across the years who have been tremendously impacted by the trip.
How gracious are you with your team? Are you the kind of person who forgives faults or do you harbor resentment? Do you encourage people to share their opinion, even when it goes against your point-of-view?
My sister saw something that needed to be done and she volunteered to be the one to do it. She volunteered to organize the event to make it easier for others to serve. She started where she was. She kept the mission first. She did it to help, not to get the recognition. She was gracious while managing the team dynamics. She served her team. As a result, the Mexico Outreach Trip has grown into a multi-church, multi-state project that has impacted thousands of people.
She is an extra ordinary leader. You can be one too.
Are you ready to begin?